State lawmakers have their own ideas on what to do with city schools

Jun 10, 2019

State Assemblymember Jamie Romeo said it’s not appropriate to ask Rochester residents to vote on the removal of the city Board of Education when there is no clear plan to replace it.

Assemblymember Jamie Romeo

Mayor Lovely Warren introduced legislation last week that would dissolve the elected school board for five years after a citywide referendum in November. The proposal also includes asking State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to appoint a new board.

Even if the referendum passes, only state lawmakers have the power to dissolve the board.

Romeo, a Rochester Democrat, said she and the voters shouldn’t make this kind of decision without knowing what the state Department of Education would do next.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily appropriate to put a question to voters for a plan that does not exist right now,” said Romeo. “I think we need to hear from SED (New York State Department of Education). I’m disappointed that we have not heard from SED since the last four weeks when (Elia) met with the delegation and proposed something that was significantly different and I’m hoping that we’ll hear from her soon.”

Romeo said that this decision should not be made in a silo.

“We only have two weeks left of session and we need to act as partners in government,” she said. “We need to be having these communications around a table so we can get on the same track, and unfortunately that does not feel like where we are.”

Romeo said the Rochester delegation discussed hypotheticals with Elia but nothing beyond that.

Republican state Sen. Rich Funke said the state delegation has been “left on their own” to find a way forward for the troubled city school district.

Funke said he and state Sen. Joe Robach are working on legislation to remove the school board for five years if Warren’s referendum passes. Funke said he’s hesitant to remove an elected body unless voters approve it.

“You have to have community buy-in on things of this nature, and I think the community ought to be able to make that determination,” said Funke.

Funke said that there is disagreement within the education department on which way to proceed with Rochester’s schools.

Funke said a complete takeover of the district has been discussed, but he does not support that. One plan, Funke said, would shift power from the Board of Education to the superintendent.

Assemblyman Harry Bronson is also developing a plan that would keep district leadership in place. 

State Senator Rich Funke

Bronson’s plan is centered on expanding neighborhood-centric community schools that have extended hours and wraparound services like health care.

His plan is built on implementing former state-appointed Distinguished Educator Jaime Aquino’s 84 recommendations that were released last November in a report that was critical of the district’s governance, finances, outcomes and finances.

Aquino resigned Friday with two months left in his term.

Funke said he’s had discussions with Bronson, Warren and others but made it clear that things are up in the air.

“These are all things that are being discussed right now, which way we go, how it finally goes down, I’m not really sure, to be honest with you. But we’ll be talking about it all this week,” said Funke.

City Council is set to vote next week on whether to hold the referendum.